Phone. 4:45 a.m. Still dark out. Nobody calls with good news at this hour. Maybe somebody back east… Maybe something really great happened, so they know it’s okay to wake me up… Hope nobody died…
Hello… No response.
Hello, I say, more loudly, insistent.
hel-lo… He whispers the word, barely able to talk.
hhhh… hhhh… hhhh… hhhhnn… The rest isn’t words, just a semi-vocalization, as though he’s learning how to coordinate speaking and breathing. The sounds seem to come from a distance, as though he isn’t holding the phone directly to his ear. He’s breathing hard, fast; by the time I register what’s happening I’ve heard him pant four, perhaps five times. I hang up.
This is the second time I’ve hung up on him. The first time, about three weeks ago, he’d called at 2 a.m. That time he hadn’t even said hello. He’d uttered a couple of half-moan half-grunt sounds, quickly, and then I’d hung up.
He has only called twice, but already I think of him as “my caller,” already I expect to hear from him again. He will call, I will answer. He will give some audible indication that he is masturbating, I will hang up. A routine has been established. We have a relationship.
I am not afraid but I am slightly worried, concerned that it might be one of my students. I have no idea, of course, who it is – instinct, more than logic, suggests a student, although there is a degree of logic involved. The caller is clearly a man, and many of the men I know are current or former students. If it is a student, then I am disturbed more than fearful. I love my students, can’t imagine anything bad resulting from even this warped version of communication with one of them. I am not afraid, but I tremble when I hang up the phone, tremble as I get back into bed. I’m hardly afraid at all.
Both times he’s called I’ve had the urge to yell into the phone. Say something, motherfucker! You asshole, don’t call me again! Following the anger, there’s been curiosity, almost concern. I’ve wanted to ask, sincerely, Who are you? Do I know you? And I’ve fantasized chatting with him, casually, flippantly, as he jerked off: So, what makes a man pick up the phone at this point in the process, exactly?
We’ve had less than thirty seconds of contact, but he has entered my world.
I wonder if it’s purely coincidence, my number picked at random. (But saved, for he called again…) I wonder if he knows where I live, what I look like. I wonder how old he is, what he looks like. I have begun to picture him as a particular student, a tall, blonde nineteen-year old who would email me from time to time during the semester he attended my class, a year ago. He seemed like a decent kid, but was a poor student. We’d had little contact outside of class – I can’t even remember his name – but I’d sensed a jittery energy about him, a kind of edginess that registered only vaguely at the time. He never had anything of consequence to say in his emails, would write hi, hope you’re having a nice day… I’d respond yes, you too, don’t forget to turn in your essay on Monday.
He is probably not my caller, but my brain finds it helpful to focus on an image, understands that it’s easier to deal with something concrete than something abstract. And so I picture this kid, think he was a mediocre student, he would probably be a mediocre stalker.
It’s not until I write those words that I realize I must be at least a little worried that my caller might stalk me. I’m surprised at this response, see it as an over-reaction. I remember my former student: he is too lazy to stalk me, I think. I try to laugh.
After the second incident I attempt to learn his number, use the *69 phone service, but the number has been blocked. I can report the problem to the phone company, but that would result in my number being changed. I don’t want my number changed. I don’t want my life interfered with at all. What I want – even more than wanting the calls to stop – is to know who he is.
I want him to know that he has interrupted my sleep; to wake to his urgent breathing is profoundly disorienting, cruel. I want him to know that I cried after the first time he called, that I felt deeply lonely. When I think of touching my lover I sometimes think of him, and have to stop. When I touch myself I sometimes think of him, and have to stop. He has not altered my ability to fantasize but he has altered my ability to proceed unharmed; he has affected my understanding of intent and desire; he has slithered into my psyche and I pray for him to leave.
I hope he is not simply an angry, violent young man, that he is something better, someone capable of change, someone who will abandon this habit – the habit of summoning a woman; of creating, for himself, a witness – who he thinks of, I imagine, as a participant. (I hope he is just a stupid kid thinking he’s not hurting anyone. I hope he is not cruel. I hope he is not lonely). I want him to know that I am not a participant, am not his lover, his girlfriend, his partner, his wife. And I want him to know that I want him gone, I want to light a match at the edge of his image and watch it burn. He has trespassed into my dreams, an intruder, a coward; he has transgressed boundaries with almost as much force as if having lunged bodily from the bushes outside my bedroom window.
I am not afraid but I am alive and because I am alive I am unable to stop thinking and one of the things I think about is him and perhaps in a way he has complicated my life, made my imagination richer and for that I wonder if I should thank him. Thank you, I think, thank you, my caller. I pity you I worry about you; you make me sick you make me furious you make me feel like we are the only two people in the world. I am awake in the night, alone, my body curled quietly under the stars. And you are somewhere else, one hand on yourself, the other hand reaching for the phone. You call and I answer.
We are the only two people in the world and so we do what people do: reach out. And damnit, I have romanticized the situation but part of me believes it: he reaches out by calling and I reach out by writing. He has chosen to reach toward me and I have chosen to reach back, though indirectly – he will never read this – but still, I am writing, in part, to him. And although part of me has softened to my caller I do not want to hear what I hear when he calls. And so we thwart each other: I hang up on him; he does not, cannot hear what I say here. And because the idea of failing to connect breaks my heart I am sad, and because I am sad for this stranger who has, quite clearly, injured my imagination, I am angry. And because my vocabulary often reaches its limits when I am angry, all I can think to scream at him is FUCK YOU. Fuck you, caller. Fuck you.
You make my heart tired, caller… but what you do with your body does not interest me. No, wait, it interests me to this extent: I am curious about why – why do you call? Does your desire have any relationship at all to my understanding of desire; do you think about intimacy, loneliness, fear, love, pleasure, sadness, rage? What we do with our bodies, alone, together… how we confront ourselves, how we expose ourselves, how we face one another… what we hunger for, just how naked we can feel…
How alike are we? Why do you call?
These questions shake me up, my caller, as much as your whisper in the night.